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8 Artists Put Their Instagram Feeds on Display in Chicago

A new show at Chicago’s Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art explores the role of social media in contemporary art practices.

by B. David Zarley
Apr 26 2017, 2:41pm

Oscar Arriola, "Bodega Cats." Image courtesy the artist and UIMA.

Whether conscious or not, any participation in social media is inherently an act of curation. In an effort to present a specific image to the rest of the world, one naturally picks and populates the contents of their various feeds. After years spent observing and enjoying the social media feeds of her peers, photographer and curator Linda Dorman realized that these streams of information can offer a window into another aspect of artistry. Social media can be something akin to the turning of a gem, with new facets, angles, and lights reflecting from it.

"I would see pictures by these people, and I'd go 'Oh, I love that,'" Dorman tells Creators. "[The artists] all do different things… I just grew to admire everybody's work over time, and I just had this feeling, 'God, I could see a show coming out of this.'"

Natural Inclinations, at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago's Ukrainian Village, is that show. Featuring the various social media feeds and social media-influenced practices of eight different artists—whose studio works range from photography to ceramics, and sculptures to installations—Natural Inclinations offers a chance to see a different side of the artists on display.

Oscar Arriola, La Ciudad, 2017. Site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of UIMA.

Photographer and curator Oscar Arriola chronicles Chicago's graffiti and street art scenes. His collection of photos and artworks—including pieces by Edie Fake, a prismatic newspaper box covered in graffiti, and a Chicago Police Department barrier turned into a bench by the artist William FitzPatrick—sprawl across the UIMA's back wall like the city's Designated Community Area Map, a vibe further enforced by the list of works, titled La Ciudad.

For Arriola, social media is a powerful way for young photographers to hone their craft and disseminate their work, especially for those who may not be able to afford or have the name recognition to earn wider means of promotion. "I love helping artists promote their shows," Arriola says. "So I'll use it for that." This is an ersatz variation on his usual practice; an instant platform for art he loves, as opposed to the more lengthy process of putting on his own shows or shooting for magazines.

Gregg Hertzlieb, Untitled, 2016. Inkjet print on paper, 10 x 13 inches (image), 11 x 14 inches (paper). Image courtesy of the artist and UIMA.

Despite its benefits, social media is often deemed inherently solipsistic. Artist Barbara Koenen's Instagram practice of taking a photo of the sunrise over Lake Michigan from her South Side apartment each morning, however, directly refutes the notion of the medium as one for narcissists.

"I've been fortunate to see the sunrise over the lake for a number of years," Koenen says. "But it wasn't until I got my smartphone and realized that, you know, especially with Instagram, it's like click click click and suddenly hundreds of people see it. And in Chicago, most people don't get to see the lake in the morning." People regularly tell Koenen how much they enjoy seeing her images, often hashtagged with positive affirmations, each morning. Some even meditate to them. "It's a gift," Koenen says.

For Dorman, the same can be said about the visibility into the lives of artists that social media provides. Check out more images from the show below: 

Barbara Koenen, July 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and UIMA.

Stephanie Burke, Rotorua, New Zealand, 2016. Photo postcard, 4 x 6 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and UIMA.

Harvey Hanig, Two Stuffed Chairs, Batavia, 8/25/15. Hahnemuhle Baryta FB Paper and Epson R3000 Ink Jet, 10 x 15 inches on 13 x 19 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and UIMA.

Nathan Mason, Urban Forms (Untitled), 2016/17, digital photography and digital frames, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and UIMA.

Natural Inclinations runs at the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art through May 28.

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